Paola Minekov’s Undercurrents: The cover for Holocaust Memories
I have chosen Paola Minekov’s painting Undercurrents as the cover for my book of reviews of Holocaust memoirs, fiction and films, Holocaust Memories. Paola is a Bulgarian-born Jewish artist living in London, England. The daughter of the notable Bulgarian sculptor Ivan Minekov (who is known, among other things, for a famous sculpture of the national leader during WWII Dimitar Peshev), Paola perpetuates her father’s legacy through her own art. Her native country, Bulgaria, was one of the few European states that didn’t give in to Hitler’s demands to send its Jewish population to the Nazi concentration camps. As is often the case, politics are quite complicated, especially morally. In March 1941, Bulgaria entered into a military alliance with Nazi Germany. Soon thereafter, Tsar Boris III enacted the Law for Protection of the Nation, a discriminatory decree against Jews modeled after the German Nuremberg Laws of 1935. In March 1943, the Bulgarian military and police deported over 13,000 non-Bulgarian Jews living in the country and its territories, handing them over to the Nazis. But as the tide of the war began changing, Tsar Boris III changed his country’s course as well. Under pressure from Dimitar Peshev, a leader of Parliament, and the Bulgarian Church, Tsar Boris III refused to deport the 48,000 native Jews that would have been threated with annihilation. Thus, despite its alliance with Nazi Germany, Bulgaria is one of the few European countries that didn’t doom its Jewish population.
Although not explicitly about the Holocaust, Paola’s painting fits this somber subject. Reminiscent of aspects of Picasso’s blue period, it is painted in a softer, more flowing, Cubist manner in shades of blue, a color associated with melancholia. The delicate figure in the painting’s foreground, hominid and feminine, her gaze lowered, her mouth reduced to a small sliver of silence, appears to contemplate a subject of unspeakable sadness. The man behind her looms large in darker shades of blue and grey; he is only a shadow. To my eyes, he is kept alive solely by her memory, her mourning and her sadness. To me, she represents survivors: not only the survivors of the Holocaust, but also us, the generations who live with the burden of the past. It is up to us, Jews and non-Jews alike, to learn and remember the past so that such acts of genocide are not repeated in the present and future.